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Oindrila Mukherjee
Thursday , August 16, 2012

So long, India

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"In the mind of a woman for whom no place is home the thought of an end to all flight is unbearable." -- Milan Kundera, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" The scorching dry heat of early June in north India has given way to cloudy skies and occasional downpours. The temperature is about 15 degrees Celsius lower than when I first got here. Ten weeks can make you feel like you belong somewhere. But just when you do, it's time to leave again. Most of my Indian friends in the States are envious of my time here, for ten weeks is a luxury few professionals can afford. Yet, there is no other way to submerge yourself in a culture than such an extended period of time. In order to feel the pulse of a place, it's necessary to watch local TV, listen to local radio, read local newspapers....

Tuesday , August 14, 2012

Culture and chaos

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A literary revolution of sorts has overtaken the country in the past decade. The global excitement over India's English-language novelists that began when in the late 90s has now moved past surprise and delight to the point where Indians are now expected to routinely win major awards and write big books. Renowned British literary agency Aitken Alexander Associates has opened an office in India. Bloomsbury and Simon & Schuster have also launched Indian divisions. It's important to note that all the optimism surrounding the publishing scene in India comes amidst a worldwide recession that's hit the publishing industry in the West pretty hard. Bookstores in the US have been losing out to Amazon and digital alternatives, where it's largely doom and gloom among editors and literary agents. But that is not quite the case in India, where the Internet and kindle are still not as pervasive as in the West.....

Friday , August 10, 2012

India's Olympic problem

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Michael Phelps - 22, India - 24 I frequently complain about the broadcasting of sports in the US, about the focus on American football, basketball & baseball and events that are played between different cities or colleges. I make fun of how America christens its important events the World Series even though only one country in the world participates in it. I get quite frustrated about having to pay extra for Tennis Channel and not having access to soccer and other global sports. Many Indians routinely make fun of America for its apparently self-absorbed sporting culture. Recently, when the US TV network NBC decided to telecast the opening ceremony of the Olympics not live but delayed which meant all of America watched the event hours after the rest of the world, it seemed like another instance of simply not tuning in - quite literally - to the rest of....

Saturday , August 04, 2012

Millennium S***ty

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For the past eight years I've been visiting India every other year and spending several weeks at the height of summer in the paradox called Gurgaon. The Wikipedia entry on Gurgaon inadvertently sums up what this city has become. First it says: Gurgaon is (also) the only Indian city to have successfully distributed electricity connections to all its households. Those of us who've spent any amount of time here would chuckle at this description. Luckily for Wikipedia, it also adds this a few sentences later: Gurgaon has been deemed a non-city due to the lack of comprehensive infrastructure and its corporate enclaves, including a dearth of sidewalks, convenience stores, and public parks. Phew, now we can trust Wikipedia again. Gurgaon is described variously as an industrial hub, a medical tourism hub, an outsourcing hub, and so on. What began with the auto industry and Maruti has now become the....

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

A handful of Oprah

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The past week and a half have seen many Indians get their knickers in a twist over Oprah's Indian special episode on her show "Oprah's Next Chapter". Her by now infamous remark, "I heard some Indian people eat with their hands still?" was seen as the ignorant culmination of an overall offensive episode that clearly sought to exoticise India in the manner of 19th century European travellers. Somewhere, Edward Said is pounding his chest. Given the kind of influence that Oprah wields over a large part of Americans, such clichéd representations of India are obviously problematic. I once had this conversation with a friend in Houston: She: "I can never go to India." Me: "Why not?" She: "I'd get terribly depressed. I've heard that India is full of lame and blind people." Me: "You mean the disabled? Like here in America?" She:....

Friday , July 27, 2012

Bombay blues

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When I was a little girl in the 80s, I spent four years in Bombay. My parents and I lived in a small apartment on Warden Road, close to Breach Candy hospital and down the road from the shops owned by brothers Amarsons and Premsons. Every day our community darwan would escort me and some of the neighbours' kids through back lanes to our school, Green Lawns. In the evenings, when I wasn't playing with my friends, I'd go for walks with my mother across the street to the park by the sea or for pony rides nearby. Even at that age, somehow I knew how glamorous Warden Road was with glitzy shops like Benzer and fast food joints like Yankee Doodle that served the first hamburgers I ever ate. Soon after, my family moved to Calcutta. At first, I missed my friends and the bright lights of....

Saturday , July 21, 2012

Monsoon magic in Goa

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A dark shadow creeps across the sky until it's almost as black as night. The waves get choppier and choppier until they lash against the shore in anger. The water is chilly on your skin. When the dogs sense the deluge coming, they flee out of sight. In the distance, where the beach shack is shut, the palm trees sway wildly. Then the rain descends, instantly torrential, drowning all other sounds. It gets in your eyes and ears, soaking your swimsuit to the skin. Sea and sky merge into one angry crash of water. Goa in the monsoon - the loveliest place on earth. When you tire of the sea, you can drive through the state, north to south or south to north, through sleepy little villages dotted with wine shops and streetside bars and restaurants, past paddy fields and dense forests of palm trees.....

Sunday , July 15, 2012

Southern Spice

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The last couple of days I've been in Hyderabad, the city of biryani, pearls, gongura mutton, Tollywood and Sania Mirza. I had visited here a few times in the past, but didn't remember much except the deliciously spicy food at Southern Spice restaurant in Banjara Hills. Hyderabad is a fascinating mix of Islamic and Telugu culture. The most charming part of the city comes obviously from the old Charminar area. The street is flanked on either side by jewellery, clothing, footwear and attar shops. Many burqa-clad women walk along the streets, shopping and, no doubt, bargaining for things. I remember buying a small bottle of attar for a friend once but as soon as he sniffed its strong heady scent, he called it a woman-repeller, and since then I've decided it may not be the wisest of gifts these days. In the midst of all the hustle....

Friday , July 06, 2012

Lee and Hesh - what a mess

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So this blog is supposed to review changes in India over the past decade. But of course there are some things that don't change. On May 31, 2000, when I was working with The Statesman in Calcutta, I wrote an article called "Divided They Fall?" in the sports supplement. It was a lament on the break up of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, after a stellar year where they reached the finals of all four Grand Slams, the first team to do so since 1952. They won three Slams that year and became the number one-ranked team in the world. Tennis pundits across the world were seriously contemplating the question - was this the best doubles team the world had ever seen? I read my article the other day, to refresh my memory. At the time the Paes team was displeased with Enrico Piperno, Bhupathi's coach,....

Saturday , June 30, 2012

Revisiting Calcutta - Part 2

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In my last blog post I talked about the crumbling beauty of Calcutta. For me, personally, it was an attempt to get reacquainted with the sights, sounds and smells of the city where I grew up. I was on a mission, and spent the four days rushing from one end to another, taking photographs and notes. From the narrow bylanes of Shyambazar to the green expanse of the Maidan, from the bustle of Dalhousie to the quieter neighbourhoods of Jodhpur Park and Golf green, from the old houses of Alipore to the new highrises on the Eastern Bypass, I tried to pack in as much as possible in between catching up with a few friends and relatives. Of course, one also has to eat. No nostalgia trip can be complete without food. I carried with me to Calcutta a checklist of some of the foods I used....


More about Oindrila Mukherjee

Oindrila is Assistant Professor of creative writing at Grand Valley State University at Grand Rapids, Michigan. A fiction writer, translator, former journalist and an ardent tennis fan, she has also been a Creative Writing Fellow in Fiction at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. You can follow her on Twitter @oinkness.